Thursday, May 30, 2019

Between Dauphine and Desire and Other Adventures at the End of the World, NOLA Blog.

Tennessee, Kermit, Plessy and other scenes from New Orleans.  

I used to meet dad here every summer,
Driving from one point of the state to the other,
Making our way from Houston to Breaux Bridge, in St. Martin Parish, meandering through the crawfish country, talking books after school ended, greeting the trees, getting away from the chaos, the concrete jungle behind us, the myths of the road expanding. 

Those moments  come and go,
But the road goes  on forever.

“Get ready I” say to the teenager,  walking  out of the Louis Armstrong airport.
The balmy heat greets us, like a  friend.

It’s a feeling many of us have coming  back. 
“In the spring of 1988, I returned to New Orleans, and as soon as I smelled the air, I knew I was home,” Anne recalls in
Interview with a Vampire.
“It was rich, almost sweet, like the scent of jasmine and roses around our old courtyard. 
I walked the streets, savoring that long lost perfume.”
We were staying at the Chateau Hotel on Chartres and St Phillip Street.
Walking in I knew I had been  here  before,  decades prior.
Our last memories of mom and dad happy together were of them sharing a glass of wine on  the patio outside there three and  a half decades ago.

Now dad’s gone.
And  mom and I are making plans for another trip here soon.
In  the meantime, the teenager and I are visiting together.
She  was last here 14 years ago, eating at Galatoire's with her grandfather,
 two days before Katrina hit.

This is her first time back.
I recall my dad and I eating beignets and listening to steel drums here.
Dipping into old voodoo shops, getting acquainted with the city.

We all fall in love with it in our own ways.

Everyone has tips for the perfect NOLA adventure.

Josh writes the best advice:

“You can see a city-wide live music calendar and scan it for those bands at, and download the app for up-to-the-minute refreshes and live streaming radio. Check out what's happening at the Spotted Cat any time, get a bloody mary at the terrific dive bars Big Daddy's or Marky's (or anywhere, really, at any time of day). Eat po' boys and get a bag of crawfish from a corner store, sit on the levy with them.”

Those drinks at Big Daddy’s got the best of Caroline when we went a few years ago. But Josh points us in the right direction,
Including Frenchman Street and the Marigny, our favorite NOLA neighborhood.

Walking, the hot air greets us. 
The world is getting hotter.
Who knows  how much longer  NOLA will even be here?
But the world loves  it.
We love it.
“It doesn’t feel like the United States,”
says the Teenager.
We walk down  Chartres to Esplanade, past the crusty punks
Take a left, grab a beer and some voodoo chips in the bodega.
And walk up to Buffas, where  food and drinks are served 24 hours a day.
Blues music is playing.
Everyone is chilling out listening.
The teenager has the first of countless cups of red beans and rice.
They are serving the alligator etouffee I love, along with redfish, and boudin balls,
A splendid flavor one can’t get anywhere  else.

And perhaps that’s why we’re here.
To know there is still flavor left.
“It’s always good to know there is a place you can come,” I gush to the little one,
Hoping to impart a little life advice after a rough year.

Kermit is playing at the Blue Nile.
Set begins at 1130 says the door man.

Killing time, we drop by the Spotted Cat everyone is telling us about. 
“Located in the heart of the enchanted Faubourg Marigny, just steps away from the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter,”
The Spotted Cat
 “has been and remains the local favorite for live New Orleans music ranging from Traditional and Modern Jazz, Blues, Funk, Klezmer, and so much more. Patrons are sure to enjoy listening to local musicians playing their hearts out.”

Finally, Kermit’s set begins.
The  first time I saw Kermit, he gave everyone  Red Beans and Rice in between sets. 15 years ago,  we’ve both changed a bit.
But the sound is still spell binding.
No one plays like him.
Roy Hargrove is gone.
We used to watch him for hours at Pete’s place.
And now,  there is  only one Kermit.
And he seems to be channeling Pops,
As the patron saint of NOLA music.

“I  love the bass,” notes the Teenager, taking in  the late night set.

We wander back, past the crusty punks and the voodoo shops all the way home.
A woman is playing, “The Killing Moon” on the accordion.
 A smell of vomit whiffs through the air.

We get back to the hotel,
Past Coops where Dad and I ate.
They toasted his ashes all  those years ago.
Back to sleep and dreams.

Kurt has some great suggestions for the next day.
“Walk out to the “end of the world” our on the levee at the St Claude Bridge.”

It’s a plan.
But my first breakfast in NOLA is always at Café Flora, at Franklyn and Royal, an easy walk from our hotel.

More voodoo shops.
“Where are you from?” asks one proprietor,
Whose told us about her move here from Harlem USA.

“I’m  from NOLA in  the future,” I reply.
“Me too.”
“Notes her friend.”
“You’re not from anywhere in this world.”

Walking, we greet a cat in the window.
He smiles and then hisses at us.
Looks like the cat in Master and the Margarita.
His/Her owner greets us.
We chat for a bit.
Everyone chats.
“You just like small talk,” says the teenager.
But how did you know him?

Lovely homes,
Yellows and pinks,
Blurring through the day.
A little dinge here.
The waitress suggests black beans with my eggs.

“That’s the best  ice tea,” says the teenager,
Taking in the flyers,
Art on the walls,
A man is wearing a bathrobe, jean shorts, and  cowboy  boots.

“See cowboy boots are back.”

When I’m at Floras, I’m always reminded that NOLA is the northern most part of the Caribbean, overlapping between cultures and histories, trade routes and pestilences,
Yellow fever and mysteries from the  islands and back.

Our amiable waitress draws us a map to the end of the world.
“Just walk  down Franklyn to Dauphine and take right, past the railroad tracks, past Frady’s, and take a left on Poland.  Its right there.”

Suns shining. Murals are everywhere.
The railroad seems to conjure up the Mississippi delta.
Relics from Mexico in  the junk shop.
The devil in the corner.
The cat from Master and Margarita greets us.

We past the corner of Dauphine and Desire.

“That’s kindov poetry,” we gush.

Its everywhere.

“READ Books!”

“If someone gets inside your head fuck with them!”

“LOVE Hate!”
On the electric pole.
You feel it everywhere here.
This magic place, vying with existence,
With the monolith of America.
East West
North  South
War between the states.
Between  climate denialists
And  those who suffered,
Displaced from the storm.
Civil war vs the United States of Amnesia.

“Your joy is inscribed itself on the sidewalk
And has never been washed away…”
The spray paints screams at Homer Plessey and Dauphine.
A  plaque reminds  us as we make our way through Faubourg Marigny & Bywater,
Separate but equal.
But the struggle continues.
The 14th amendment would eventually prevail,
But it would take decades,
Waves of disobedient bodies,
Doll tests,
And roaring movements  of bodies,
Rumbling forward.

New Orleans has always been a location for a resistance culture.
Marching bands reminding us of the subversive possibilities of pleasure together.
Of memory,
Of cultural resistance.

Junk shops and murals are everywhere.
We are dizzy.

“Notice me
No’Tis You
Notice me
Noticing You”

Who is creating who, when we encounter the other?
When we talk about god.
When we encounter another.
God spelled backward,
Its been  said many times.
Who is discovering?
Who is creating

Running into friends at Frady’s One Stop
(3231 Dauphine, across from Satsuma).
 “If you are easily grossed out then just don’t go to this super old school New Orleans corner grocery and po-boy shop – seriously, don’t go,” Erin advises.  “I guarantee that the décor and the types of products sold, including sandwiches hasn’t changed in many, many years (this could have been the corner store in my grandmother’s neighborhood in the 1960s).  But if you want a solid, cheap, quick New Orleans po-boy – seafood, roast beef or hot sausage - give this place a try.  This is about as authentic as they come.”

“Ben I haven’t seen you in ages.”
“How did  he know you.”
“I can’t tell  you.”

We keep on wandering. 
Stumbling into a road house at 4229 Dauphine, called Vaughans,
“Brass bands tonight!”
Reads the chalk outside.

“Is that for  tonight?” I ask.
“Might be last  night.  I’m not sure.”

The bridge is in the distance.

Sounds drift from some  trees in the distance.
Gradually, we walk to the musicboxvillage.
an artist-built sculpture garden ” Kurt was telling  us about.
Some kids are playing inside, 
Strange horn sounds and drums.

We can see something.

I ask an elder woman.

No its just a beach and an old bridge.
She replies.

I look back at  the railroad tracks seeming to lead nowhere.
At least no where  I can see.

The bridge is ahead.

A crossroad between this city and that, this side and that, this world and that.
A dream about my father standing beating me the railroad.
No Dad please s stop.
The devil offering a deal.
Rob telling me no.
Back off.  Don’t be so needy.
Don’t ask for so much.
For all the pleasure we fall, Dr Faustus.

The bridge opens.
We walk from one  side  to the other.

The suns beating down.
Back to the Confederate  Museum,
The Romanesque Memorial Hall,
Full of relics from  the ‘War between  the States.’
Opened in 1890 as the first generation  of survivors were fading  from  this life into  the next,
As the legacy of the war  between the states shifted and turned,
With more and more sugar coating.

People buying old flags.
Treachery everywhere.
“Lets get out of here,” says  the Teenager,
caught up in the glaring  contradiction of  the city,
Staring us in the face. 

Eating etouffee, red beans and rice.
Drinking chardonnay.
Walking to Burgundy, where Kurt’s play,
Dos Coyotesat, The Fortress of Lushington is in  its final  week. 
Everyone’s drinking  watermelon punch.
The actors walk inside. 
“Carlos, the lone survivor of an illegal and catastrophic crossing turns into an unwitting “coyote” to help Piper, an unlikely new friend escape the American Dream he nearly died for.”

As the night continues we walk and  walk,
Taking it all in. 
Swimming late into the night. 

One more  day.
Sunday Jazz Brunch
We can’t  make it  to St Louis cemetery.
So we wander out the street car.

“Oak Street is a kinda nice little street, if you end up taking the the Street Car that far,” advises Kurt. “And as I think I told your cool daughter, Lafayette Cemetery #1, across the street from Commander's Palace, is along the way through the Garden District, and it's also walking distance from Magazine Street, near some cool Vintage Shops. (Lafayette #2 is in the GD, too.)”
If they buried you alive,
Or you woke from a coma mistaken as death,
You carried a bell.
Or were mistaken for a vampire.

The little one is hot.
Messages from New York calling.
Be here now.
Instagram is taking her there.
The blues grab at us. 
You gotta talk with the blues,  I advise.
What’s up?
A crisis grasps us. 

After more  beignets and a walk down Magazine Street,
We make our way back to Marigny
Chatting all the way to Elizabeth’s
(601 Gallier @ Chartres,
Where Erin writes:
“Famous for its praline bacon, but don’t miss the French Toast Burrito, Redneck Eggs, Duck Waffle and other delicious “lost bread” options (Nola-speak for day-old bread used to make french toast etc). Longtime neighborhood favorite, a little grungy and old school, but always delicious.”

The restaurant is full but its ok.

We make our way.
The Abbey at 1123  Decator has the best jukebox in New Orleans advises Carson, or you can go to Arnaud's French 75.
So we walk.
Our flight is not for another few hours, 
We trace  lines… from one location  to  the  next, 
One story to the next,
Plessy v Ferguson to Frenchman Street.
This would be an amazing place for roller derby, notes  the teenager, walking back to the railroad tracks, mood elevating.
It can be a terror discovering the people of the USA.
Some gorgeous.
Some  retrograde.
It all a part of this,
Of us.
A mural screams at the sky.
“She was wild and she was beautiful.
And sometimes she was a tree.
Strange and rooted,
That piece of shelter that never asks
Anything in return.”

I love that girl,
Notes the teenager.
We take a left off Royal,
Down to Frenchman street. 
“Lets look at records.”
“Try Bamboulas for some music and lunch,” suggests Leelove from the record store.
“Dixie Jazz”
“Rice and  beans.”
People dancing.
“I’ll fly away.”
Oh how I adore this city. 
“I need this in Brooklyn,” I confess.
“New York is always the clash.”
“Go to Bushwick dad.
Listen to some music.”
Father daughter bonding.
“Now you know what Louie was saying when he asked 
‘Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?’
Do you know?”
She  stares, sighs and reminds me
Shut up pup.
Walking past Frenchman  Street, we sat the graffiti with the old Tennessee Williams quote:
“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. 
Everywhere else is Cleveland.” 
What do you think?
Do you agree?
Actually yes, she replies.
But we both agree LA is magnificent.
I’m vindicated.
Gonna miss you NOLA.
Until next time friend. 
In the meantime,
laissez les bon temps rouler.

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